A recent acquisition that we purchased at auction was a folder of letters written to Sheridan Gibney (AC 1925). Gibney was a very successful playwright, Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriter, and three-time president of the Screenwriter’s Guild. He wrote dozens of successful screenplays, two of which, in particular, became film classics: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), both starring Paul Muni. For the Pasteur biopic, Gibney won two Oscars for Best Writing.
The newly acquired letters will make a good addition to our existing collection of Gibney’s papers.
Gibney’s third and final tenure as president of the Screenwriter’s Guild coincided with the infamous anti-Communist “witch hunt” by the House Un-American Activities Committee beginning in 1947. For that reason, his career is a representative case for the fraught relationship between culture and politics. As he wrote in his brief unpublished memoir (available in his biographical file in the Archives), Gibney always considered himself to be against Communism, but his position as guild president brought his career to a halt when the so-called “unfriendly witnesses” at the House committee hearings implicated the Screenwriter’s Guild as a hotbed of Communism — and Gibney was guilty by association.
His success in drama notwithstanding, Gibney’s great love, especially during his undergraduate years at Amherst, was poetry. Robert Frost considered him one of his best pupils. At one critical point in his undergraduate career, Gibney felt alienated by what he perceived as a lack of intellectual seriousness at Amherst. He considered dropping out to write and travel in Europe, citing Frost as his model: he, Frost, never earned a college degree yet supported himself by writing, teaching and lecturing — even, for a time, farming. (more…)